While only 38-years-old, Brent Park has spent more than two decades working with children. The 1985 South Lakes High School graduate, first began helping students at before and after school programs when he was a student in high school.
“When I was a freshman, I volunteered at PALS [Early Learning Center],” said Park, who started working for PALS after graduating. He worked 20 years at PALS, a Reston child care facility founded in 1975 committed to serving low-income families, until it closed its doors three years ago.
Since PALs closed, Park has worked as the school-age coordinator at Laurel Learning Center in Reston, which provides affordable childcare to children from infancy to 12 years old. Recognizing Park’s commitment to children and teaching, he was named a 2006 Best of Reston award winner in January.
The Best of Reston awards are given out each year by Reston Interfaith and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and presented to businesses, individuals and organizations that have gone above and beyond in their service to improving the quality of life of those in the community. Park and this year’s other award winners will be honored at the 15th Annual Best of Reston Gala on April 20.
“IT’S A WELL deserved award for him,” said Fran Crawley who works with Park at Laurel Learning Center. Crawley, the center’s program manager, is amazed at Park’s ability to engage children and help them learn. “He’s very dedicated when it comes to the kids — their education and their well-being,” said Crawley. “He is always thinking about what’s best for them.”
According to Bernie Bennecoff, another co-worker at Laurel Learning Center, Park has helped create a better curriculum for learning. “One of the best things, and I often tell the parents, is that when Brent started we had a couple of kids that were held back a grade in school,” said Bennecoff. “When Brent got here, he said that was unacceptable and he really started a strong school-buddy system.” Since Park’s arrival, no student has repeated a grade.
“And instead of having to send kids to summer school to catch up, five of our kids went to an enrichment program for their summer school because their work [during the school year] was so excellent.”
The success of the program all leads back to Park.
“We’ve revamped the program. We’re trying to get them ahead of the game instead of trying to catch up,” said Park.
The biggest difference, Park said, is his approach. Along with an overhauled curriculum, Park has relied on high academic expectations. “What you expect from them, you’ll get from them,” he said.
PARK ALSO spends much of his spare time volunteering for a Boys & Girls Club in Washington, D.C.
“I coached 8 and under basketball there, as well as helping out with other things,” Park said. Sometimes Park will take the children on field trips to Reston to show them there’s more to the world than just their city block, he said.
For years, Park has supervised several children on a summer, week-long trip to Camp Winnebago in Maine. Park’s latest goal is to give that same opportunity to some of the children at the Boys & Girls Club. He’s hoping to find them scholarships or other alternatives.
“I want to make sure and get them there — one way or another,” said Park, who has seen hundreds of children benefit from the camp experience. “I’ll help pay for it if I have to.”
The Best of Reston award, which Park called “flattering,” had him reflecting on his work the last several years.
“I’ve had a chance to affect a lot of kids’ lives, which makes me feel like I made a difference,” Park said. “That’s the best reward.”